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Dayton, prosecutors celebrate gun bill

Posted by: under Minnesota governor, Minnesota legislature Updated: April 12, 2012 - 3:26 PM

Gov. Mark Dayton held a public signing ceremony Thursday for the state's newest gun bill; one that will allow prosecutors to carry weapons while on duty.

Flanked by county attorneys and GOP sponsor Rep. Tony Cornish, Dayton signed off on the new law for the second time this week (the first signing was Monday.)

"All these men and women and people like them will be safer because of your leadership," Dayton said, thanking Cornish, R-Good Thunder, who introduced the bill at the request of the state County Attorneys Association.

The Cook County shooting "brought a lot of attention to the dangers that our enforcers of the law" face, Cornish said. "They put up with quite a lot...there's a very volatile situation in our courts today."

Minnesota's county attorneys and assistant county attorneys say the bill is a step toward making prosecutors feel a little more secure about what can be a very dangerous job. Just last December, the Cook County Attorney was shot in his courthouse office by a defendant he'd just prosecuted.

The new law waives a restriction that had banned prosecutors from carrying guns on duty, even if they have carry permits. Judges and public defenders face no such restrictions.

Judges will still have the right to ban guns from courthouses and courtrooms, but prosecutors say they were more interested in having the option of keeping weapons in their offices, cars and elsewhere.Unlike most gun bills, this one passed the Legislature by a broad majority, with bipartisan support.

"Prosecutors are threatened pretty much on a daily basis," said Blue Earth County Attorney Ross Arneson, one of more than half a dozen prosecutors who attended the signing ceremony at the Capitol. "This bill doesn't give county attorneys or assistant county attorneys any rights that public defenders and assistant public defenders haven't enjoyed all along. You weren't worried about public defenders carrying guns in courthouses, so I don't know why you're worried that county attorneys are going to cause problems."

Most county attorneys won't carry weapons, said Arneson, noting that he likely wouldn't carry a weapon to work, even though he's had a carry permit for the past decade.

"If I think there's a current safety threat, I'd want to be able to carry until that threat's over," he told reporters. "I don't feel (a threat) today, despite the media presence...I think it's a pretty modest proposal. I don't think most people are going to do it most of the time. Frankly, it's kind of a pain to carry a firearm around."

Among the prosecutors at Thursday's signing ceremony was Ross Arneson, a Blue Earth County assistant attorney, who once had a suspect take out a hit on his life. Arneson, who testified in favor of the bill earlier this year, described the unnerving days when he had to travel to and from his office without a weapon, because he was technically on duty.

"We're put in situation every day that are more dangerous than the typical person, just because of who we are in contact with," said Rovney, who was alerted to the threat on his life when the suspect he was prosecuting attempted to recruit a police confidential informant as his hit man.

"At that time, I wasn't able to take this very simple step to protect myself, to carry a handgun," Rovney added. "I'm not a very big gun guy myself, but certainly in a situation like that, I'd like to have that opportunity. Now that I do, I'm very grateful for that"

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